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At the time of writing, Gibson have cut a bloody swath through their range of models for 2015 and many of the great cheap Gibbos introduced over the past 18 months will be no more. They are still for sale though and with that in mind, ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Gibson Les Paul LPJ.
When Gibson introduced the Les Paul LPJ in 2013 it won plaudits for its solid tones and build quality, the mock-EMG effect pickups were less lauded. In 2014 Gibson upped the spec with their new zebra ’61 pickups – has this turned a good-value LP into a Standard-beater? Lets have a look.
Body and Hardware
The shape of an old-school Les Paul always surprises me, after the lightness of the brilliant SGJ and the elegantly wasted slimness of the body of the lovely Melody Maker, a full-fat Les Paul body always seems a little bloated.
But the model I have in my hands is a handsome piece of Mahogany with, can it be? a proper maple cap. Like the Melody Maker and the SGJ, there is a very thin nitro coating that makes the body feel warm and inviting – it’s not the most aesthetic finish in the world, but these very thin coatings do make guitars just feel lovely to hold.
The well-laid maple cap covers up some weight relief in the body (or as we call it here, holes) and the simple-most-definitely-not-flamed top gives an impression of restrained, stripped down class. It really is very handsome in a 1954 Telecaster sort of way.
The neck is maple and has a mortise and tenon join to the body. It’s finished in the same cherry finish as the body and the nitro gives the neck a lovely satin feel. I’ve played a few otherwise lovely Fenders with thick urethane coated necks recently and they just felt sticky. The LPJ felt lovely, warm and smooth.
You get 22 cryogenically frozen frets (they did not feel any colder). Frets were well laid and nicely polished, (I chose this guitar at random so QA seems to be doing its work). The 2014 LPJ has a nice slab of rosewood with a 12” radius so tempered enough for chord work but speedy for soloing. Gibson seem to have abandoned their experiment with baked maple boards – I played a few and they seemed fine but the traditionalist in me always liked rosewood. There is also an inlaid 120th anniversary logo on the fingerboard that I found much less annoying than I thought I would
The neck shape is described as a 50s Rounded. What this meant to me was a nicely meaty neck that really filled the hand nicely. The satin finish worked really well with this neck and it was supremely comfortable. This is a really great neck to play and if you are intimidated by the idea of a big neck, give this one a go, it is an absolute peach. The extra neck mass will help the tone along as well.
You get a silk-screened Gibson logo on the headstock and lovely Pearloid tuning pegs (much, much nicer than the ones on the slightly-cheaper Melody Maker. There is a white tek-loid nut, which is pretty standard for Gibson.
Bridge is a classic tune-o-matic unit. There is a curious satin look to it that looked machine tooled – it gives this end of the guitar a very modern and attractive look.
New for 2014 are what Gibson call ’61 Zebra humbuckers. These are Alnico V units so should give you a vintage tone with a bit of bite. Visually, they are an improvements on the matt black units on the 2013 model. You’ve got 2 tone and 2 volume speed knobs (I’ve always wanted a speed knob). Not much more I can say about that – even I cannot get too excited about tone knobs. If I wanted to be really fussy, a coil tap would have been nice.
The thin finish means that every join is visible and what you see is solid, unpretentious craftsmanship. The whole thing feels very solid in the hands and has the pleasing sense of an object that will be happy to give 50 years of service. The LPJ, SGJ and the Melody Maker are the cheapest Gibsons I’ve ever played but there is an honesty in their construction that is really quite moving and makes these guitars intensely likable in a way that a £6,000 1959 reissue can never be.
Every joint was well cut, every piece of woodworking was well executed, there is no sense of penny-pinching in this key area. And it just looks great, to my eyes it makes all those AAAAAAAA grade maple tops seem a little….silly and unnecessary, bu then I am a puritan at heart.
I don’t need to tell you that this is not always the case with Gibsons, who can still be frustratingly inconsistent with quality control. But this LPJ is absolutely cracking – just like the Melody Maker and the SGJ.
Next….we play the darn thing….